Published by Scribner in 1920
New York, NY
This Side of Paradise was F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel. He penned it with the sole purpose of and desire for success. It was his belief that if he wrote a novel and had it published he would become a successful author and it would cause his lost love to return to him. Interestingly enough that is exactly what happened. Scribner published This Side of Paradise on March 26, 1920 and the book sold out within three days. Shortly after his lost love, Zelda Sayre returned and they were married April 3, 1920.
Unfortunately for Amory Blaine, the protagonist of This Side of Paradise, there wasn't such a "happy" ending to his story, but then it doesn't appear a happy ending was the goal of Fitzgerald in writing the story. This Side of Paradise is a coming of age story about a young man, at the turn of the last century, who is in search of himself. In the end he does find out who he is (i.e. what type of person he is, his life motives, etc.), but happiness eludes him.
For those curious as to why Amory does not find happiness I will be so bold as to state that he did not find happiness because he was looking in all the wrong places. At one point in the story Amory claims, "It's just that religion doesn't seem to have the slightest bearing on life at my age." This is the lie that Amory chooses to believe and it is the same lie that many young people choose to believe today. Religion -- or rather faith in God -- has every bearing on our lives at every point of our lives. True faith in God is the beginning of true happiness and finding out who we are and why we are on earth.
This Side of Paradise is certainly not a "happily ever after" type of story, but it is a very real to life story. It is also very beautifully written (though I must admit I did find myself bogged down by the prose from time to time.) Still, I believe this is a book that would make an excellent reading selection for a book club. There is a lot of material to think on and to discuss.
I found it interesting to note how much of Amory's life experiences appear to be patterned after Fitzgerald's own. It was also fascinating to see how Fitzgerald pulled real life events and wove them into the story; some at very key points in Amory's life (i.e. prohibition). Though, I was a tad surprised to find the story glosses over Amory's time at war (WWI), but I suppose it was because in Fitzgerald's opinion the war didn't have the same affect on Amory's life choices that his relationships had.
All in all, I enjoyed This Side of Paradise; not because it was a happy or pretty story, but because it was well written and in its grittiness it depicted what life is like for someone who searches for fulfillment and happiness in all the wrong places. If you're looking for a "modern" novel to read and discuss with your book group I encourage you to take a closer look at one of Fitzgerald's novels (I also read and reviewed The Great Gatsby). I think there's plenty here to discuss even if you don't believe the same as the characters within.
The Great Gatsby (reviewed)
The Great Gatsby (reviewed)